Submission for Creative Research Assessment, 2020 for 2017 & 2018
Architect: Heather Dodd | Savage + Dodd Architects
Phd Candidate | UFS Architecture Department
Client: Department of Higher Education (DHET) Sol Plaatje University
Reflection by Author – Heather Dodd
Sol Plaatje University, located in Kimberley in the Northern Cape is one of two new universities to be set up in post-Apartheid South Africa in response to increasing access to higher education.
The campus for the new university is located in the heart of Kimberley. The basis for the development of the new university was a comprehensive urban design process commissioned by the client, one that integrates the university within the urban fabric of Kimberley. Spatial integration of the campus into the town itself – rather than a stand-alone gated campus – was a fundamental decision of the university. In doing so, the university takes on a civic function within Kimberley, contributing to the economic, social and cultural life of the town. Building C002, the Moroka Halls of Residence, is a mixed use multi-functional building with a student residence, dining hall, teaching facilities, office and retail as part of the first phase of the development.
This building won a South African Institute of Architects Northern Cape, Regional Merit Award in 2017, and a South African Institute of Architects Award of Merit in 2018.
The university was conceptualised as a catalytic urban regeneration project – the city itself becomes the university and the university the city. Thus, this project belongs to a tradition of university buildings where a relationship exists between building form and urban form. In doing so, the buildings balance private and public functions through a gradation of space. This tradition arguably has historic roots in the monastic tradition of ‘courtyard collegiums’ that birthed early universities, and is common to university towns such as Oxford in the United Kingdom or Stellenbosch in South Africa. It is the opposite of the American ‘campus model’ which has been the prevalent university development model for South African universities.
The project was undertaken as a two stage design competition, which allowed for the exploration of a series of questions. What makes an architecture specific to its place? What is the nature of the urban fabric of Kimberley, how might it influence the form of the building and its spatial relations of public to private? Further enquiries related to what typologies might encourage connectivity and social learning, and thereby inform new modalities of teaching and learning. The final design is based upon the typology of a perimeter block and courtyard building. The building faces onto an urban square and together with the adjoining building, wraps around the central internal courtyards. Its interface with the public realm is through the retail space facing onto the public square. A colonnade with a narrative sunscreen mediates this space.
In the context of contemporary university buildings that encourages cross programming and the sharing of resources; connectivity and social learning become integral to the student learning experience. This suggests buildings that are not only mixed-use but are able to provide spaces that can be programmed for various and sometime changing uses, integrating formal and informal social spaces within a live-work- learn- play multi-functional Precinct.
Contribution to new knowledge
The building makes a contribution on several levels; it looks to placemaking and appropriate architectural responses to context, it questions space provision within changing teaching modalities, and it locates architecture in a socio-political context. The design process also questioned the specificity of architecture to its place, both in terms of environmental sustainability, cultural linkages and urban connections. All of which work to explore the typology of a university buildings within the current South African and Global context.
The socio-political context of South Africa forms an important background to the fast changing landscape of higher education in the country. As a new university, Sol Plaatje is symbolic of a new democratic order, aligned to inclusion and opportunity. A critical position was taken toward building typology and the types of spaces that could encourage connectivity, social learning and new modalities of teaching. With this in mind, the design process was approached as a narrative exercise, to imagine the users and the kinds of spaces that a new contemporary university might contain. The design evolved from an exercise in storytelling linked to descriptive, almost ‘comic’ like drawings.
The exploration of an appropriate contemporary architectural language was taken through into the building realisation. The choice of building materials relates to the unique character of the area, both aesthetically and in terms of environmental sustainability. Through exploring elements of material culture that are unique to Kimberley and the Northern Cape, local symbols and memories are captured in building elements such as the sunscreens, which reference the markings of the Driekopseiland rock engravings as well as imagery derived from Kimberley’s industrial landscape.
2019 Shortlisted in International Urban Project Award 2019
2018 South African Institute of Architects : Award of Merit : Sol Plaatje University Central Campus Building C002
2017 Sol Plaatje University Building C002 : South African Institute of Architects Northern Cape : Regional Merit Award 2017
2017 Finalist In World Architecture Festival : Higher Education & Research and Best Use of Colour for Sol Plaatje University. The project was presented at the World Architecture Festival in Berlin in November 2017 and received a Highly Commended in the Higher Education & Research Category
World Architecture (Monthly) 2020 01 | 355
Bauwelt Einblick : International Urban Project Award 2019
Earthworks Issue 39 Aug|Sept 2017
Corobrik SAIA Awards For Excellence WInners Catalogue 2018
Earthworks Issue 32 June|July 2016
Digest of South African Architecture Issue 21 2016
Book : Self Published by Savage + Dodd Architects – View more
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